One silver lining of the pandemic is that many artists used some of their time in isolation to reflect on their art. Locked down in South Carolina, singer and guitarist Jesse Colin Young launched a YouTube video series called One Song at a Time—on each episode Young reimagined a single work from his expansive catalog, accompanying himself on a Taylor 910ce, recording himself on two AEA A440 ribbon mics—one for his voice, the other for his guitar—and no overdubs. The result is now this 11-track solo acoustic album, Highway Troubadour, filled with stripped-down versions of such hits as “Darkness, Darkness,” from the Youngbloods’ 1969 album Elephant Mountain, and the jazzy “Ridgetop,” from his 1973 breakthrough solo effort, Song for Juli. The new album, the follow-up to 2019’s comeback Dreamers, traces Young’s personal journey from the Lower East Side of Manhattan to the San Francisco Bay Area to his home on a Hawaiian coffee plantation to the Deep South.
At 79, Young’s once youthful voice shows signs of his age, but his lower-register ballads, like the 1960s country-blues song “Four in the Morning,” written by his friend George Remaily, still ring true (Remaily’s drug-inspired “Euphoria” is another highlight.) Young’s chiming fingerstyle guitar shines on “Sugar Babe,” based on an old folk song, and again on “Song for Juli,” a sweet ode to his youngest child. But these reimagined songs, filled with so much warmth and love, transcend the road-weary travels of a folk troubadour to reveal the resiliency of the human spirit.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.